It was late afternoon in the South African bush and before us lay a moment of exquisite possibilities. From our vantage point on the open safari vehicle, we could see a giraffe grazing on an acacia tree, unaware of the danger lurking. Five lions – a huge male and four females – lay downwind in the long grass, snoozing in the setting sun. We waited. They flicked their tales and rolled over.
But night was coming – and with it the possibility of the hunt. I felt awed, expectant. One lioness sniffed the air, then she was up. The others rose silently and began to follow. By now the giraffe had melted away but Doc Themba, our game ranger, nursed our vehicle along, keeping us in the front row of this unscripted drama. Suddenly, not three metres from the lead lion, a rabbit hiding in the grass leapt up. The lion lurched forward to kill it but then decided it was too much effort for too little reward.
That’s the magic of the bush – you never know where the drama will come from. We trailed the lions for 45 thrilling minutes, then reluctantly headed back to camp, where preparations for dinner were underway.
My wife and I had booked in that afternoon to Little Bush Camp, one of four exclusive lodges owned by Sabi Sabi, situated in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. Our lodge was intimate, with just six rooms, each embedded into the bush and furnished with an understated yet luxurious design and an outdoor jacuzzi on a balcony that overlooked a dry river bed.
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These days, high-end private lodges with their eye-watering prices attract mostly international visitors who want to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) and enjoy a superbly curated experience with sumptuous rooms, exquisite cuisine and every need anticipated.
It’s a competitive market and, to differentiate themselves, lodges often make claims to give them an edge with tour operators – about community support or environmental sustainability – that can be hard to verify. In Sabi Sabi’s case, it was their chef mentorship programme and financial support of three villages just outside the reserve that attracted my attention.